Seven Things you need to Know about Pets and Mental Health

Many people often talk about the benefits that they feel from keeping pets, but are there actually any direct links between our animal friends and mental health? The bond between animals and people has always been strong, and no matter how old we are, people of all age can feel the perks of spending time around animals. Pets can reduce mental health problems, alleviate stress and provide companionship for lonely people. Here are seven things to know about pets and mental health.

1: They Reduce Stress

A recent study carried out by Washington University has shown that petting a cat or a dog for just 10 minutes can reduce stress levels. And it’s not just cats and dogs which can help to lower stress levels. Watching an aquarium has also been proven to reduce people’s heart rates and anxiety levels. Studies carried out in the 80’s showed that watching an aquarium helped to reduce anxiety levels by up to 12%. Another studied carried out more recently by Plymouth University and the University of Exeter found that watching fish swimming around in aquariums “led to noticeable reductions in participants blood pressure and heart rate.”

2: Pets Help to Build Habits

Having a pet forces you to get into good routines, which make a great difference for people who have mental health problems. Often people who are struggling with mental health won’t have a routine and can become quite reclusive. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating cycle because the less you do the less energy you’ll have. Routines can help to battle depression. Having a certain time which you need to wake up and take your dog for a walk, feed them and take them to classes will help people develop their own routines.

3: Pets Reduce Childhood Anxiety

Prevention is much better than cure, so if we can find a way to raise healthy and happy children, they’ll be less likely to develop mental health illnesses as they reach adulthood. Keeping a pet reduces anxiety in children, as well as giving them other physical benefits, such as being more active through playing with and walking a dog. Children who grow up with pets stand a much better chance at developing into happy and healthy young adults.

4: Pets Increase Self-Esteem

A study carried out by Miami University found than people who owned a pet had higher levels of self-esteem than those who don’t own a pet. While low self-esteem isn’t a mental illness in itself, there are links between people’s confidence and how they think about themselves, and mental health. Building self-esteem is crucial for a positive and happier life. A great way to build self-esteem is to feel loved and accepted, and pets can certainly offer that to their owners.

5: Pet’s Help People to Practice Mindfulness

When you’re spending time with your pet, they seem to have the ability to get rid of all your worries and make it seem like nothing else matters. This is most likely because we are able to be so present and in the moment when we’re talking to and interacting with our pets. When you’re spending time living right in the moment, you don’t have the time to worry about the past or the future. Mindfulness allows people to manage their thoughts and feelings, and therefore helps people to look after their mental health.

6: Pets Support Mental Health Recovery

Researchers have found that keeping a pet can help people to recover from mental health conditions. These pets aren’t limited to fluffy animals which we can stroke, but also birds and fish. Pets help to distract people from their mental health conditions, which allows them to live a more normal life and get on the right path to recovery. Having a pet helps to give people a sense of purpose, a routine, and a sense of being in control. Pets can provide people with unconditional love which is priceless.

7: The Provide Companionship for Lonely People

People feel more needed and wanted when they have a pet that is relying on them for care. When someone who is depressed or has another mental health disability is given the responsibility of caring or another living being, it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cat or a dog, or even a tank full of fish. Whether the pet can actually interact with their owner is irrelevant. A study in which people suffering with depression were given some crickets, found that after eight weeks, the controlled group who were caring for the crickets were actually less depressed.

Final Thoughts

The links between keeping a pet and mental health are evident. Pets can help to reduce stress levels and encourage independence and self-esteem. If you are suffering with a mental health illness, or know of someone who is, perhaps you should consider a pet!




Get on Track With a Back to School Sleep Schedule

It’s almost that season—time for school buses and alarm clocks. And if you’re like most families, you’ve probably been letting your sleep schedule slide in favor of late evenings spent enjoying the extra hours of daylight with a bike ride or the glow of a backyard fire pit in the warm night air.

We don’t want to cut into any of your much-deserved summer fun, but that early morning alarm will come as a huge shock if you don’t start preparing for it as summer winds down. And it seems like every day we are learning more about the health benefits of sleep—from improving our memory and creativity to helping us maintain a healthy weight.

But getting back on a regular sleep schedule might be easier than you think with these tweaks to your routine.

Start Gradually

No, your kids are not just going to all of a sudden fall into bed at 7:30 p.m. if they’ve been used to hitting the hay at 10. For a normal sleep schedule, it is better to ease into it.  If the change is minimal, say an hour, or you should allow ample time before the first school day.  You can start by moving up the bedtime in 15-minute increments each night. But if you’re trying to make a drastic change and school start in five days, you might want to speed that up to 30-minute increments.

 

Power Down

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) finds that the blue light emitting from our devices can interfere with the release of melatonin, which helps us sleep. So skip the tablet and try a printed book for kids who like to decompress by reading in bed. And, it’s also smart to start a habit of leaving devices in a central “charging area” rather than in room so that kids (and adults!) aren’t lured into checking their snaps or messages when they’re supposed to be sleeping.

 

Light Up Right

Turns out that your lightbulb can actually interfere with your sleep, too, finds the NSF. The worst kinds? Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs) and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs), which also give off that dreaded blue light. Of course, they are also among the most energy efficient, so you still may want to use them elsewhere in the house, but for best sleep quality, your choice should be—you’re never going to guess this—a red bulb (pink works too). So get out that holiday “mood lighting” you use and stick a red bulb in bedroom lamps or night lights.

 

Create a Restful Bedtime Routine

Having an evening routine can signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. In the summer, your kid might just be crashing because of a day spent swimming and running around, but they might not be totally zonked yet if you’re aiming for an earlier bedtime. The start of the school year is the ideal time to start new habits, so consider creating a routine that will carry you through the year. Depending on your patience it can be elaborate as your child chooses, or you can scale it back to a few simple yoga stretches, a book and a round of goodnight kisses.

 

Eat for Sleep

Big meals right before bed can be hard to digest so if your child needs a before-bedtime snack, choose something light, such as yogurt, fruit, applesauce or toast. Coincidentally, those foods also won’t require you making a mess in the kitchen to prepare them.

And of course limit caffeine afternoon—and likely before noon, too.

 

Set a Good Example

If you’re out roasting marshmallows (or just hanging out around the fire pit which might make your child think you’re making treats), it’s going to be hard for them to settle down. And, let’s be honest, it likely wouldn’t hurt you to get a little more sleep, too. So take this as your cue to curtail your evening activities…curl up in bed with a magazine or book and see how much better you feel in the morning yourself. After all, back-to-school can be stressful for parents too, so easing into the routine well-rested yourself can only help.




10 Causes of Disability Every HR Leader Should Know

When most people consider disability, they picture something catastrophic happening, an ill-timed dive off a high rock, or a speeding car hurtling into theirs—and, for the most part, assume it can never happen to them.

That’s why human resources experts often find it challenging to convince their employees of the importance of disability insurance even though you know it’s a wise investment and more commonly used than most people assume. In fact, if you were to keep track of the 20-year-olds in today’s workforce, you’d find out that nearly 25 percent of them will be out of work for at least a year due to a health condition before they reach retirement age.

The statistic isn’t meant to alarm anyone.  However, it aims to underscore the importance of making sure that your team members realize that disability insurance is for everyone. It can be the lifeline they need in the case of an unexpected condition. Yet, outside of the basic coverage offered through Social Security, at least 51 million working adults go without disability coverage.

That can be downright scary. Considering the precarious financial position of many Americans—and the skyrocketing cost of medical treatment, any of these conditions can rob workers of the opportunity to earn enough to pay their bills – just when they need the extra income the most.

Wondering what the top causes of long-term disability are? Your employees might be surprised to learn that they are relatively common occurrences.

  1. Musculoskeletal Disorders. This is a fancy way of saying “back pain,” something weekend warriors—or even just good Samaritans helping a friend move—can probably see themselves experiencing. It also covers other muscle, back, and joint disorders, such as arthritis. Together, these conditions account for nearly 30 percent of all long-term disabilities.
  2. Cancer. Yes, we can put this in the “catastrophic” category, but it is actually more prevalent than you might imagine. In fact, more than 70,000 people in their 20s and 30s are diagnosed with cancers. This includes diagnoses of lymphoma, leukemia, testicular, melanoma, and breast cancer. Even if they are eventually cured, cancer treatment can decimate a family’s finances as they miss work to undergo treatment.
  3. Pregnancy. It’s hard to consider pregnancy as a “long-term” disability. However, complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth can infringe on work. In fact, about 1/10 of all claims involve a pregnancy-related issue.  By tapping long-term disability insurance, your employee and their little bundle of joy can be covered.
  4. Mental Health Issues. From anxiety to depression, mental health problems can take a toll. Fortunately, people are realizing that mental health is just as vital to treat as physical health. With over a quarter of the population diagnosed with one or more mental disorders each year, it is easy to see how it can be a leading cause of long-term disability.
  5. Injuries. Nine percent of long-term disability claims come from the “injury” category. This covers everything from accident recovery to surgery, broken bones, and even poisoning.
  6. Cardiovascular Issues. From heart attack to stroke, cardiovascular events strike unexpectedly. These events can prevent employees from returning to work indefinitely due to the severity of the event and the nature of the recovery.
  7. Nervous System. This category encompasses a wide range of potential issues that include multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy. This also includes a range of additional eye and ear disorders.  Even Alzheimer’s, a condition often considered an older person’s disease, can strike during peak earning years. In fact, about 200,000 people contract the early-onset form of Alzheimer’s, which typically develops in their 40s and 50s.
  8. Infectious Diseases. While headlines trumpet new types of infectious diseases, from Zika to MRSA, this category also encompasses far less-exotic strains. This includes bacteria that cause strep throat and viruses that bring on the flu. When conditions become more resistant to hard-working antibiotics, the threat of work loss to infectious disease grows more prevalent.
  9. Digestive System. Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are just three of the better-known conditions in the digestive diseases category. Altogether there are 40 digestive conditions that plague more than 34 million Americans, causing them to miss work as they wrestle with treatment and prevention.
  10. Respiratory diseases. Asthma is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions. This also includes a wide variety of other lung-related ailments. It’s not a leap to assume that difficulty in breathing would lead to difficulty in working…illuminating the need for long-term disability insurance.

No one wants to sit down with employees to go over a list of illnesses or conditions they may eventually have. However, human resources professionals have the opportunity to educate their colleagues on common causes of disability, as well as, how they can protect themselves. Employers can deliver one of the best-kept secrets in the benefits world—how disability insurance can help prevent them from losing a paycheck just when they need it most.




How Taking Time Off is Good for Employee Engagement


It’s officially summer!  As vacation season kicks off, it is a good time for HR teams to encourage the value of taking a break.  As we all know, vacations are important for emotional and physical health of employees.  In fact, studies show that they build a far more engaged, happy, and productive workforce.

Unlike other developed countries, the United States has no mandated number of days off for employees. A quarter of Americans have no paid vacations at all. This has an impact on wellness. 

A 2017 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 61 percent of workers self-identified as burned out in their current job. Of those workers, 31 percent reported high or extremely high levels of stress at work. A third of all workers said they had no plans to take a vacation that year.

Why People Don’t Take Time Off

A survey from Project Time Off in 2017 reveals a key reason why people are avoiding vacations: they think it makes them look like a less committed worker. Thirty eight percent of employees wanted their boss to see them as  as “a work martyr”. Yet, according to the report those four-in-ten employees do not understand work martyrdom does not necessarily advance their careers.  In fact, it may be hurting them.

“These self-proclaimed work martyrs are less likely (79 to 84 percent) to report receiving a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who do not subscribe to the work martyr myth. When it comes to promotions, they are no more likely to have received a promotion in the last year than the average worker (28 percent). This shows that the work martyr attitude is not helping anyone get ahead.”

Melinda Gates addressed this topic in her first LinkedIn post after Microsite acquired the platform in 2017 — pointing out how this workaholic culture can be particularly damaging for women. “The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50 in the time since that issue of Fortune was published,” she wrote. “Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.

Benefits of Summer Vacation

New data from a O.C. Tanner survey shows a clear correlation between those who take regular vacations and their overall emotional health and happiness on the job.

Sixty six percent of respondents said they take vacations at least one week or longer during the summer months. Nearly the same percentage (67 percent) said it is somewhat or extremely important for them to do so. This is what they then found in the regular vacationers:

  • Dedication to the Job: 70 percent of respondents say they are highly motivated to contribute to the success of the organization, as opposed to only 55 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • A Sense of Belonging: 63 percent of respondents say they feel a sense of belonging at the company where they currently work, as opposed to only 43 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Loyalty: 65 percent of respondents say they have a strong desire to be working for their organization one year from now, as opposed to 51 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.
  • Viewed as a Good Employer: 65 percent of respondents say their organization has a reputation for being a good employer whose people do great work, as opposed to just 46 percent of respondents who do not regularly take a week-long summer vacation.

In another example discussed in Harvard Business Review, one company implemented a mandatory week off once every seven weeks for all staff. The result? “Creativity went up 33 percent, happiness levels rose 25 percent, and productivity increased 13 percent.” The company concluded that once every seven weeks was perhaps excessive, but nonetheless the sheer productivity and creativity that came from having a rested and recharged workforce benefited the entire organization.

So the next time you hear a manager complain about a worker requesting a vacation, show them the data. And if you haven’t already, now is the time to be instituting a positive and proactive vacation policy.




Workplace Mental Health: Research on Preventing Lost Productivity & Work Disability

By Dr. David Berube, Chief Medical Officer,
VP at Lincoln Financial Group


Mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day, and each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. It is not the result of one event, rather, according to research, mental illness is a culmination of several factors. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, factors could include genetics, environment and lifestyle. And, in the workplace, it can have various affects for those who suffer and those who employ them.

Pervasiveness of Mental Health Illness in the Workplace

The pervasiveness of mental health illness (MHI) in the workplace is high. In fact, it affects almost twenty percent of employees and costs employers over $80 billion annually, mostly for lost productivity and absenteeism.1 The most common mental diagnoses are: anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and together, they account for over eight percent of all long-term disability claims.2 Although treatment may improve mood, behavior, productivity, and absenteeism,3 and can be cost-effective for employers,4 studies have shown that many people with MHI don’t get proper treatment.5

Barriers to Treatment

Why does this problem persist? Three major factors that may prevent those who suffer a mental illness condition from seeking and staying in treatment include a low perceived need for treatment, stigmatization surrounding MHI, and financial support for treatment. For example, employees and their family members may not be aware that they have a significant problem or that the problem they have is treatable; also, primary care may not adequately address screening for MHI.6 Additionally, workers may be concerned about stigmatization and discrimination at work or in their community. Then there is insurance; co-pays for healthcare visits and pharmaceuticals can be daunting, and insurance coverage for therapy may be limited.7

This doesn’t address the courage it takes for someone to seek help, the time it could take to find the right practitioner for quality care, and the potential challenge for confidently returning to work. Patients often wait a month or more for an appointment with a psychiatrist,8 while often times primary care physicians, who have limited training and specialization in MHI, may have to fill in for mental health professionals. The quality of patient care has also been a problem. One study shows that only fourteen percent of insured MHI patients received care that met best practice guidelines.9 Another unanticipated challenge is the ability for someone to effectively return to work. In the workplace, employers are often unsure about how to help someone with MHI stay at work or even return to work, citing concerns about confidentiality, stigma, managing the employee, and the accommodations needed for a successful employee transition.10 Because such protocols might not exist yet for an employer, employers may not recognize or address psychological, social and organizational job characteristics that could potentially affect work outcomes.11

Insurance Can Pave the Way to a Solution

Although these barriers to successful treatment exist, the good news is that effective solutions are available; they often relate to education, awareness and access. In specific scientific investigations and as well as consensus recommendations, there are proven circumstances that stand as evidence employers can achieve better results to support these employees. In fact, studies show that with good health insurance coverage (often employer-provided) for MHI, workers are much more likely to pursue treatment.9 Also, now more than ever, there are online and in-person resources to help educate employees about early recognition and treatment. There are also tools for for mental health professionals to assist MHI patients cope with life’s challenges, and the expected results in terms of better function at work and at home.12 Finally, a private prescreening can be the difference between someone who knows they need help, and those that take that first step to getting care. Confidential screening for MHI, in person or by phone, can identify MHI and engage people to initiate treatment early on if linked to the right interventions.13

Telecommunications Can Boost Timeliness of Treatment

In healthcare technology, automation has helped to speed up MHI patient access and care. Advances in telecommunications, like telepsychology, can be as effective as in-person therapy, in breaking down the stigma often associated with MHI, and enabling those who might not other wise reach out to do so. In turn it may reduce the shortage of professionals available for in-person treatment.14,15  As any other service provided, positive results will depend on engaging trained, licensed mental health professionals who are adept at using telepsychology.16

Regardless of how care is delivered, scientific evidence supports specific treatments that are most effective. Health insurers can have a significant role in ensuring quality and compliance — especially through MHI disease management.17

Employers Can Offer Return to Work (RTW) Strategies

For the employer, accommodating for employees with MHI can be challenging, but the basic principles are similar to those for other medical conditions. An important starting point for companies to support those returning to work after a MHI disability, is to ensure that there is a clear policy and protocol in place, as well as strong, consistent leadership to support those employees. Employers have generally had success when they offer encouragement, respect and confidentiality, and inquire about what types of accommodations would be helpful. The ultimate goal is to engage case managers and RTW coordinators to facilitate communication and the RTW process in a supportive environment.18 RTW strategies may include modified training and supervision, and gradually increasing hours and work demands.19 Effectively addressing MHI is challenging, but material evidence now exists for what works and how to achieve better results.

The time and effort needed to focus on RTW for employees with MHI is an investment in the workplace community for the longterm and far outweighs the cost of replacing critical talent. Early recognition, appropriate treatment, and productive accommodations are good for your bottom line and, more importantly, good for your employees.1


Dr. David Berube is the Chief Medical Officer at Lincoln Financial Group, a member of the Council for Disability Awareness. Dr. Berube is an occupational medicine specialist in West Haven, Connecticut. He received his medical degree from University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and a Masters in Public Health at Yale University. He’s been in practice for over 25 years.


1American Psychiatric Association Foundation. Business Case for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatment. 2010.

2 Council for Disability Awareness. Long Term Disability Claims Review. 2013.

3 Beck A, LA Crain, LI Solberg, et al. The Effect of Depression Treatment on Work Productivity. American Journal of Managed Care. 20(8):e294-301. 2014..

Click here to view the complete list of article sources.




12 ways to mitigate stress during the holidays

The holidays can be stressful — whether it’s gift buying, balancing party commitments or entertaining family, this time of year can put a strain on your mental health. In addition, the holidays can sometimes be a time of increased depression and anxiety. However, there are a few practical steps people can take to reduce stress during this time of the year, according to Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., a Manhattan-based psychiatrist and President and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

“We can learn to recognize holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, and combat them before they lead to a meltdown,” says Dr. Borenstein. “With a little planning and some positive actions, you can find ways to enjoy the holidays.”

Here are 12 ways to reduce your stress during the holidays:

  1. Know the holidays don’t have to be perfect. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. If, for example, your adult children can’t visit, celebrate together in other ways, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings.If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. “It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season,” Dr. Borenstein explains.
  3. Connect with people you trust.If you feel lonely, seek out trusted friends, if possible, or attend community, religious or other social events that offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is another good way to lift your spirits.
  4. Try simple activities that make you feel better. “Exercise, for example, is a natural antidepressant that can lift your mood by boosting endorphins—natural chemicals in the body,” says Dr. Borenstein. Exercises like running and aerobics also boost norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. “Even a casual walk can help a great deal to reset yourself,” he says.
  5. Take a breather.Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that clears your mind, slows your breathing and restores inner calm.  Examples: step outside to look at the stars; listen to soothing music; or read a book you’re interested in.
  6. Set aside family differences.Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  7. Stick to a budget.Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.  Also, try alternatives, like donating to a charity in someone’s name, giving homemade gifts or starting a family gift exchange.
  8. Learn to say no.By saying yes when you should say no, you can feel resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. And if your work is unyielding during the season, try to remove something else from your agenda to give you more time for yourself.
  9. Plan ahead.Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. And make lists. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling. And ask family or friends ahead of time to help with party preparation and cleanup.
  10. Stick with healthy habits. The temptation to cope by self-medicating, binge eating or excessive drinking coincides with the party spirit of the holidays, which can exacerbate negative feelings. So try not to over-indulge. “Alcohol, for example, is a depressant and can actually increase feelings of depression, stress, anxiety, and guilt,” says Dr. Borenstein.
  11. Make realistic New Year’s resolutions.  Most people don’t keep the resolutions they’ve made the year before.  “If you make a resolution, pick something realistic and short term ­– maybe something you can handle in the month of January – a simple goal you can achieve without adding more stress to your life,” suggests Dr. Borenstein. “Life is stressful enough without contributing to it unnecessarily.”
  12. Seek professional help if you need it.Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious, irritable and hopeless, unable to sleep or face routine chores. “If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional who know how to help you,” says Dr. Borenstein.



What’s considered a disability? 10 causes every HR leader should know

When most people consider disability, they picture something catastrophic happening—an ill-timed dive off a high rock, or a speeding car hurtling into theirs—and, for the most part assume it can never happen to them.

That’s why human resources experts often find it challenging to convince their employees of the importance of disability insurance even though you know it’s a wise investment and more commonly used than most people assume. In fact, if you were to keep track of the 20-year-olds in today’s workforce, you’d find out that nearly 25 percent of them will be out of work for at least a year due to a health condition before they reach retirement age.

The statistic isn’t meant to alarm anyone, but rather to underscore the importance of making sure that your team members realize that disability insurance is for everyone. It can be the lifeline they need in the case of an unexpected condition—and yet at least 51 million working adults go without disability coverage, except for the basic coverage offered through Social Security.

That can be downright scary considering the precarious financial position of many Americans—and the skyrocketing cost of medical treatment. Any of these conditions can rob workers of the opportunity to earn enough to pay their bills, and just when they need the extra income the most.

Wondering what the top causes of long-term disability are? Your employees might be surprised to learn that they are relatively common occurrences.

  1. Muscoskeletal. This is a fancy way of saying “back pain,” something weekend warriors—or even just good Samaritans helping a friend move—can probably see themselves experiencing. It also covers other muscle, back, and joint disorders, such as arthritis. Together, these conditions account for nearly 30 percent of all long-term disabilities.
  2. Cancer. Yes, we can put this in the “catastrophic” category, but it’s actually more prevalent than you might imagine. In fact, more than 70,000 people in their 20s and 30s—the prime of their life—are diagnosed with cancers, including lymphoma, leukemia, testicular, melanoma, and breast cancer. Even if they are eventually cured, cancer treatment can decimate a family’s finances as they miss work to undergo treatment.
  3. Pregnancy. It’s hard to consider pregnancy as a “long-term” disability, but the bottom line is that pregnancy (think bed rest) and childbirth can infringe on work, especially if there are complications. In fact, about 1/10 of all claims involve a pregnancy-related issue, but by tapping long-term disability insurance, your employee and their little bundle of joy can be covered.
  4. Mental health issues. From anxiety to depression, mental health problems can take a toll, and fortunately, people are realizing that mental health is just as vital to treat as physical health. Since over a quarter of the population is diagnosed with one or more mental disorders each year, it’s easy to see how they can be a leading cause of long-term disability.
  5. Injuries. Nine percent of long-term disability claims come from the “injury” category, which covers everything from accident recovery to surgery, broken bones, and even poisoning.
  6. Cardiovascular issues. From heart attack to stroke, cardiovascular events strike unexpectedly and can prevent employees from coming to work for an indefinite period of time as they build their strength back up.
  7. Nervous system. This category encompasses a wide range of potential issues that include multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy, plus a range of additional eye and ear disorders. Even conditions that are often considered an older person’s disease, such as Alzheimer’s, can strike during peak earning years. In fact about 200,000 people contract the early-onset form of Alzheimer’s, which typically develops in their 40s and 50s.
  8. Infectious diseases. While headlines trumpet new types of infectious diseases, from zika to MRSA, this category also encompasses far less-exotic strains, such as bacteria that causes strep throat and viruses that bring on the flu. As more conditions become resistant to today’s hardest-working antibiotics, the threat of losing work due to infectious disease grows more prevalent.
  9. Digestive system. Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are just three of the better-known conditions in the digestive diseases category. Altogether there are 40 digestive conditions that plague more than 34 million Americans, causing them to miss work as they wrestle with treatment and prevention.
  10. Respiratory diseases. Asthma is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions, which also include a wide variety of other lung-related ailments. It’s not a leap to assume that difficulty in breathing would lead to difficulty in working…illuminating the need for long-term disability insurance.

No one wants to sit down with employees to go over a list of illnesses or conditions they may eventually have, but the good news is that human resources professionals have the opportunity to expose their colleagues to one of the best-kept secrets in the benefit world—how disability insurance can help prevent them from losing a paycheck just when they need it most.




7 Ways To Save on Commuting Costs – One Will Work For You

The thought of having to pay just to go to work can be annoying, but most of us do. In fact one 2015 survey found that the average American spends $2,600 on their commute.

Certainly all those gas costs, parking fees and tolls can take their toll. If you’re looking to reduce your outlay, check out these seven ways to help reduce your commuting costs.

  1. Figure out the optimum time to commute.

Sometimes we can’t just waltz into work whenever we want, or we might have a daycare schedule to work around, but if you do have a modicum of flexibility, you might be surprised at the difference in your commute that even 30 minutes or so can make. And less time on the road translates into burning less fuel – not to mention patience.

Given the amount of flexibility your personal schedule allows, test the waters by going in at different times or use an app like Waze to scope out various commute times to see what’s best. You might see a significant difference by leaving your house earlier – and many downtown garages even offer you a better rate if you park before a certain time. Use the extra time to get work done in a quiet office or even just grab a relaxing breakfast and catch up on some reading. You also might find that evening commutes dissipate around 6:30 or so; you could use that time to hit your office’s fitness center or run some errands.

  1. Optimize your route.

And speaking of traffic apps, never leave home without one working for you. Even if you are convinced that a certain route is fastest, anything can happen to cause an unexpected traffic jam on a given day. Best to know what streets to avoid before you’re stuck in the crawl.

  1. Take public transportation.

Seems obvious, right? But you might not have realized that in many cities, public options have improved from just the slow city bus. Many areas have spent big bucks on light rail or other choices that can get you where you’re going even faster and more comfortably. And if you’re in one of the many urban areas that offer scooters for public rent, you can cover that “last mile” even quicker.

  1. Check into any benefits for commuting reimbursement.

Many times your onboarding process might have been so hectic that you didn’t take the time to fully understand all the benefits available to you. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Employee Benefits study, about 13 percent of companies offer a transit subsidy and 12 percent offer a parking subsidy so make sure you’re not inadvertently forgoing it.

  1. Get the best price on gas.

With gas prices on the rise, you want to get the best value you can. Some stations seems to adjust depending on the day of the week, so watch your pump to see if there’s any pattern and fill up when it’s cheapest. Also consider using an app like GasBuddy that crowdsources gas prices so you can make sure you’re getting the best deal around you.




Seven Ways to Keep Your Vacation Glow Strong

Have you recently returned from vacation, basking in the radiance that comes from relaxing in a tropical destination or enjoying new adventures with family and friends? Of course we know that vacations are fun, but they’re also good for us: In fact, a study from Expedia finds a host of benefits, with an overwhelming 96 percent of respondents saying they returned happier, 94 percent less stressed and 93 percent feeling better rested. Sixty percent even said they had a better attitude at work.

 

Unfortunately another study from the American Psychological Association found that those benefits might linger about as long as your tan…with 40 percent lamenting that vacation benefits only lasted a few days.

But you cansavor the positive effects of vacation. Here are seven ways to help prolong the vacation glow.

 

  1. Keep the evidence handy.

 

Often all it takes is a photo or memory to take us right back to the good times. So change the wallpaper on your computer to a montage of photo memories or re-create your password to be something that reminds you of your destination.

 

  1. Bring back a special souvenir.

 

Going someplace new can unlock a creative side of us or get us out of our comfort zone – new mindsets that can offer lasting benefits. The trick is to remember those wonderful feelings when you get back to the “grind,” so try to think of something you can bring home as a reminder. A special souvenir or nature-related memento such as seashells or rocks from a hiking path can be a talisman to refresh you to that carefree feeling of jumping in the waves or pride in conquering a difficult mountain hike.

 

  1. Transport the culture home.

 

And sometimes what makes a trip special isn’t an item itself but the overall vibe of the location. If you enjoyed a trip to Mexico, play some salsa music that reminds you of a fiesta you attended. Or if native cuisines held an important role in your trip, do an online search to find a recipe for the amazing Greek moussaka you had or a cocktail that you enjoyed al fresco every evening.

 

  1. Tie up loose ends before you go.

 

Coming home to a messy house or a bunch of work fires is a surefire way to completely forget all those wonderful, stress-free moments you just had. While you can’t control everything that happens while you’re gone, you can try to keep disruption to a minimum. That means taking out the kitchen trash so you don’t come back to a stinky house; adding an out-of-office message that hopefully refers callers to someone else so your email and voicemail don’t fill up; and maybe even pre-ordering groceries so your fridge is stocked with healthy fare as soon as you return.

 

  1. Ease back into it.

 

If you can, try to come home on a Friday night so you have the weekend to get your laundry done and your email cleaned out. Or at least try to put a “buffer” day on your out-of-office message to buy yourself a little time to get back in work mode. It’s brutal to have to attend an important meeting the minute you’re back in the office.

 

  1. Pay it forward.

 

Besides a bunch of hassles related to home or work responsibilities, nothing can kill a vacation afterglow faster than a startlingly high credit card bill. You will enjoy your trip much more if you pay for the majority of it before you leave, especially big expenses like the airfare and lodging, and then bring cash to cover the rest of the expenses. (Or set aside a special budget specifically for vacation expenses so the bill can be easily paid.) After all, the only thing you want lingering from your vacation is special memories, not bills.

 

  1. Plan your next outing.

 

Often the best part of vacation is the anticipation, and it can be a letdown to come home and realize you don’t have anything notable on the horizon. Of course, you should fix that with special outings every week or so, even if it’s to a park or outdoor concert, but there’s nothing like thinking of your next vacation destination to get that feeling back. So go ahead, start researching an upcoming adventure. Having something on the calendar will make it easier to jump back into work – after all, you’ve now got a new goal to save for.




Change-Makers: The Yellow Tulip Project

Photo of Julia Hansen, founder of The Yellow Tulip ProjectOn an early May evening this year in Portland, Maine, a radical art exhibition quietly opened on the edges of the city. It was called I Am More: Facing Stigma and featured life-size black and white photographs of 22 people from the wider community.

There were artists, doctors, real estate agents, high school students, mental health advocates, and poets ranging from 14 years old to 69. The images, created by the photographer Lissy Thomas, were accompanied by a short description of how each person identified themselves. “I am a doctor. I am a father. I suffer from depression.”

The exhibition was organized by The Yellow Tulip Project, a non-profit organization formed by a 16-year old high school student from Portland called Julia Hansen. The organizers had put out a call on Facebook, to see if people would be willing to step forward and publicly share their experiences of living with mental health issues or of being impacted by the suicide of a loved one.

Smashing the stigma

It was personal experience that compelled Hansen to set up this project. When she was a sophomore in Portland, she lost a best friend to suicide. Six months later, her other closest friend also took her own life. Emerging from the grief and shock of the deaths of her two best friends, Hansen then did something transformative.

She wanted to bring discussions of depression and mental illness out of the shadows of high school culture and into the light. So she set up The Yellow Tulip Project, and crafted “Tulip Teams” in schools throughout northern New England. These volunteers would become advocates for mental wellness within their own school walls and build “Hope Gardens”—where yellow tulip bulbs are planted in schoolyards and community spaces every fall.

Yellow was the favorite color of one of her best friends, and the tulip the favorite flower of another. “The tulips kind of represent my depression,” explains Hansen. “The bulbs are there and they’re in the cold and dark. But in the spring they’re forced to push up through the ground and bloom, to see the beauty again.”

A rising trend

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults (that’s 18.1 percent of the adult population of the U.S. or nearly one in five). Data from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that in 2016, an estimated 16.2 million adults (6.7 percent of the population) had at least one major depressive episode that year.

These statistics are mirrored in the workplace. Mental health issues are the fourth most common cause of both short-term and long-term private disability insurance claims—the key reasons why people take prolonged time off work.

This form of disability is one that many struggle to talk about. It’s something that actor and writer Will Wheaton—famed for his role in the iconic film Stand By Me—discussed in a speech at the Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) which he then recounted in a blog that has since gone viral.

Julia Hansen believes that one of the best ways to heal this epidemic is to build educated communities. She encourages people to come together in real life to create gardens and communal spaces where conversations about things like depression can naturally flow.

She says this is something we can all help to cultivate. The key is to normalize the conversation. “We want to build strong, supportive and educated communities that support people struggling with mental illness,” she explains. “One day we hope that we can all speak openly about mental illness in the same way that we speak about physical illness.”

Change-Makers is a series of blogs where The Council for Disability Awareness highlights people who are raising awareness and normalizing conversations about disability in their communities. Do you know of someone doing extraordinary work? Write to us at info@disabilitycouncil.org  

Pictured above, Julia Hansen. Image courtesy of Lissy Thomas.